Commercial Street forms the spine of Nanaimo's downtown core. As a result, it is the connection point and main commercial thoroughfare for the downtown.
The street is also a culture and entertainment centre for the City, featuring adjoining locations such as Diana Krall Square, the Port Theatre (850 seat live performance venue) and the City's new Conference Centre.
Numerous small businesses, and traditional storefronts line the street forming a diverse and interesting node of commercial activity, that very much favours pedestrian activity and use.Commercial Street is the primary historic Street in Nanaimo's downtown core. A commercial hub since the City™s establishment in the early 1850s, Commercial Street was the City's œmain street up until the 1960s, at which time new commercial centres started to be constructed outside the City core, and the street began to lose its commercial pre-eminence. However, its role as a focus for entertainment, special events and culture has remained, and been reinforced over the past two decades as a result of revitalization initiatives. These initiatives have also resulted in a renaissance of commercial activity through significant investments by both the City and downtown business improvement association, resulting in the interesting mix of businesses, offices, residential and cultural uses that characterize the street today.
The street pattern of the City's downtown core is significant because it contains the remnants of one of B.C. earliest town plans. Developed in 1862 by the Vancouver Coal Mining and Land Company, the plan is based on a series of streets that radiate from a focal point in the Nanaimo Harbour and resembles a European city centre, complete with public squares, broad main streets and narrow side streets that result in a variety of block sizes and shapes. Although later infill projects, especially in areas previously under water, have altered the original plan configuration, it remains substantially intact.
Later improvements to the street have primarily been the focus of downtown revitalization efforts in the early 1980s and then again in the early 2000s. These improvements have resulted in utility upgrades as well as aesthetic improvements to the street and sidewalks (e.g., the introduction of new lighting standards, pavers, street furniture, and street trees/landscaping).The street is subject to a gentle slope from south to north which is easily traveled by people with mobility limitations.
A majority of the business are located at street level and are therefore accessible, without the need to mount steps or additional ramps. The street infrastructure features curb drops and the public spaces are all accessible at street grade.Commercial Street lends itself well to festivals and other community based events, whether located on the street itself or the adjoining Diana Krall Square. For such events, the street will be blocked to vehicular traffic allowing only pedestrian use. Live music and other performances usually occur in Diana Krall Square, with commercial kiosks and markets set up on Commercial Street.
The Street is primarily used for commercial purposes. However, many festivals and associated parades also use the street throughout the year. Examples include the City's Marine Festival, Empire Day's Celebration, Coal Town Festival, and Christmas Festival, among others.The street is designed for a very low traffic speed (5-10 km per hour at most), with fairly narrow lane widths, on street parking, and liberal use of curb bulges to shorten cross walk points. Upgraded street lighting (designed to match historic light standards used by the City between the 1930s-50s) has also been introduced and will continue to be installed in phases throughout the downtown core over the next 10 years or so.
Over the past 3 years, the City, in partnerships with the RCMP and the local downtown business improvement association, have completed a highly successful and comprehensive initiative to reduce the downtown's on-street homeless population and open air drug use. These efforts have virtually eliminated the downtown drug scene and have significantly reduced the downtown homeless and panhandling population. Much of this was done by targeting drug dealers through a no go Red Zone and by providing housing and shelter opportunities for the homeless.
The City also initiated a Bar Watch program with the RCMP and local night club operators which has significantly reduce drunk and disorder incidents related to the downtown's drinking and live entertainment establishments, many of which are located on Commercial Street or in close proximity.